I’m flying home tomorrow, exactly 16 months after I landed in Teheran at 3AM on a cold November night and started my journey.
I’m excited and nervous in equal measure, unsure how many of the changes in me will survive a return to familiar environments, uncertain of the future until the Gods of Academia at Humboldt University reach their verdict and absolutely giddy at the thought of finally getting my hands on a delicious Nobel burek.
A post-mortem of the trip will follow, probably, once 16 months’ worth of travel has been digested, pared down, streamlined and satisfactorily packaged into a single Experience. Might take a decade or so, who knows. For now trying to look back at the past almost-year-and-a-half in its entirety is enough to give me vertigo, so I think I’ll keep a safe distance at least until I make it onto the plane.
I’ve made some extraordinary new friends and mourned the loss of an old one, witnessed the heart-wrenching beauty of the world and its indifferent cruelty as well, saw many beautiful sunsets and a couple of sunrises that would have been gorgeous had I not rather been asleep.
I wrote and read to my heart’s content and swung in hammocks doing nothing, agonized over my future and the probabilities of single-handedly saving the world, talked to anyone that would talk to me and sometimes stayed silent for days on end. I climbed mountains and dove in oceans and ran through unfamiliar forests, felt so happy I could burst out of my own skin and so lonely I would happily crawl in a corner and die.
I have been told I am tall by people of 15 different nationalities.
Often the boundless hospitality and kindness of strangers made me ashamed of my cynical and world-weary ways, and just as often the self-involved idiocy of my own kind has made me howl in frustration and seriously consider the life of a hermit. I’ve discarded some old ideas and adopted some new ones and thanked Coincidence every day for the good cards I’ve been dealt in life.
I’ve become a little wiser and a lot more childish, a little more relaxed and slightly softer around the edges. I still love to-do lists, flowcharts and Grand Schemes. I still have no patience for people earnestly discussing chakras and energies while drinking soya chai lattes. By and large I’m still me, and that’s just as intended.
Everything has changed. Everything remains the same.
But I am less than fond of the “journey of self-discovery” kind of tropes that usually get bandied about on such occasions, and even if any self-discovering has been taking place this isn’t Oprah, so let’s move on.
Today, as I reach the end of this little experiment in geographic promiscuity, I would like to talk of home.
I have grown up with my father’s constant comings and goings, our apartment in the permanent disarray of either packing or unpacking, part of a family where driving a motorbike across Africa is considered little more cause for excitement than going to the supermarket. I’ve also grown up with his favourite saying: “Povsod je lepo, a doma je najlepše.” – Everywhere is nice, but nothing beats home.
Returning home remains a crucial part of my travels as well. In the era of digital nomads and location-independent work a new breed of perpetual traveller has appeared that makes having a home, or even wanting one, seem almost like a character flaw. Granted, some can happily wander the world for years or decades on end, with no plans for creating a home and no wish for one either, but I am (un)fortunately not one such merry hobo and have been more than a little homesick for the past couple of months.
Missing home and enjoying the travelling life are not mutually exclusive states of being. To me travel and home are two sides of the same coin and it is only in knowing that I have a place to return to that I can leave as carelessly as I do and throw myself into the uncertainties of long-term travel.
It is because I have a home that I can be a traveller rather than an exile.
I know it can be hard to appreciate home in all of its domesticated glory when it is the entirety of one’s experience day in and day out. So, to perhaps help some of you appreciate the boring beauty of a settled life, and as a reminder to Future Me, who always starts howling with post-travelling blues roughly one day after the novelty of having access to the family fridge wears off, here are some of the things I miss about home:
I miss the anonymity of being a tall white girl in a country full of tall white girls, of being surrounded by a language that I understand.
I miss being able to read the street signs and the menus.
I miss being able to tell strangers in no uncertain terms to fuck off when they walk alongside me on the street to take sneaky selfies with me. I miss the pleasure of cursing elaborately in my mother tongue and having the offender understand exactly what it is that I’d have him do with a horse.
I miss my black boots, wearing my hair down and wearing clothes because I like them, rather than because it’s the only clean(ish) thing I have that meets the cultural and climactic criteria of the country.
I miss putting on makeup without having it melt off my face in two minutes.
I miss not sweating.
I miss long rambling walks home in the early morning hours after another weird night out in Berlin, a coffee in one hand, a Schocko-Schnecken in the other and the sun hurting my bleary eyes. I miss that incomparable treat of 4 a.m. burek on the way home from Metelkova.
I miss being able to sit alone in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon and drink a cold beer straight out of the bottle without being culturally insensitive and sending out all the wrong kinds of signals.
I miss the creature comforts of a domesticated life. Clothes on hangers. My stupid cat. A bookshelf full of paperbacks. Making coffee in the morning. A toothbrush that doesn’t require a plastic casing. Nice bed sheets and mattresses that don’t look like someone was murdered on them. Real bread.
I miss the ultimate guilty pleasure of baking a delicious Nutella cheesecake and then sitting on our well-worn couch with my mum, eating four generous slices while watching Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition. (Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it)
I miss discussing my far-fetched travel plans with my dad, for whom no travel plan is too far-fetched, and rolling my eyes like a teenager when he makes one of his Dad jokes.
I miss catching rare glimpses of my grumpy genius brother as he lurks around the apartment with his Thinking Face on. I miss hearing him play the same piece of music for days on end on his piano until we beg him to stop and threaten with violence.
I miss drinking good Slovenian wine on the balcony and watching the sun go down. If the skies are clear I can just about make out the shape of Triglav in the distance.
I miss drinking endless cups of Turkish coffee on my best friend’s balcony in Ljubljana and Späti beers with my gang of misfits in Berlin. Oh god, I would kill for a cold Hefeweizen right about now.
I miss spending long aimless afternoons with my people, the ones who were there in my best and my worst moments and can appreciate bad puns and shameless that’s-what-she-said jokes. The sort of friends where you don’t have to form a complete sentence to get your message across, because everyone knows what you mean anyways.
I miss conversations that don’t start with “Where are you from?” and/or “You’re very tall!”
I miss having a good internet connection with which to stream the new Doctor Who episodes. I’ve not yet seen a single Capaldi episode, can you imagine???
I miss working on my Big Girl computer, the one that does what it’s told without giving me a brain aneurism in the process.
I miss long meandering runs through the forest on Golovec and Volkspark Rehberge. I miss being able to run more than two kilometres without collapsing by the side of the road.
I miss having a kitchen. The simple pleasure of having a fridge. With yoghurt in it! I miss cooking and tiramisu, big pretentious salads and really really nice cheese.
I miss really big, fluffy towels. Actually, if you’re reading this at home, please go into the bathroom, take the largest fluffy towel you can find and wrap yourself in it, then post a detailed description of the experience in the comment section. Does it smell of fabric softener? Ahhh, fabric softener…
I miss ironing shirts. I miss fixing a frayed hem with thread that actually matches the colour of the fabric. I miss my sewing machines and my mum slowly losing her patience as my sewing projects turn our living room into a battlefield.
I miss having the same phone number for long enough to remember it by heart. (which doesn’t say much, since I still can’t for the life of me remember the German number that I’ve had for three years, but the thought appeals nonetheless.)
I miss… well, actually this one is none of your business.
And neither is this one.
I miss my home library, the smell of all those wonderful paperbacks, highlighted and annotated and dog-eared through years of use. I miss them most when insomnia comes out to play – sometimes I would dig through my entire collection in search of that one passage that would help me sleep.
I miss the Staatsbibliothek and St George’s bookshop and browsing the book stalls in Mauerpark on Sundays.
I miss listening to music and turning my brain off while walking across town, not having to be on the constant lookout for traffic, mean cows, mangy dogs and open sewers.
I miss waking up in the same place every day, in familiar surroundings and no check-out time.
I miss missing travel, plotting my next great adventure, dreaming and longing and yearning for a life on the road.
I am going home with a head full of memories and piles of journals filled with stories waiting to be told. I have countless other plans for trips big and small, which will be clearer once I know where I have to be for the coming summer semester. It’s a big world out there, and the more I see of it, the bigger it seems to get.
In short, you won’t be getting rid of me all that easily.
But for now, who’s up for a cold beer in Ljubljana? 🙂